Advocate a Position

This page provides suggestions for developing assignments in which you advocate a position on a controversy.

You’ve spent hours in the library and searching online. But a paper loaded with facts and figures may impress your audience but may not persuade it of the merits of your argument. Here are some suggestions for creating an argument that will both persuade and impress.

Define your purpose for yourself

Your position is important for the very fact that it is your own. But it is also important to convey to your audience why you advocate this particular position. Have you had a personal experience that has shaped or changed your opinion on this issue? Do you hold a belief or value that is central to your position? Why do you feel that it is important that others understand this position? Defining why you hold the position that you do will help you focus your argument and find the best examples from your research.

Remember the occasion

For some assignments your instructor will provide you with a specific occasion for your argument--for instance a business presentation, a book pitch, or a school board meeting. And it can be helpful to write up a short description of the values and assumptions you might expect at such an occasion. Would you be expected to speak as a professional or a student representative? Would it be important to address the local concerns of your hometown or would it be more effective to discuss broader, national issues?

If the occasion for your paper is not specified, you might think about this question more creatively. For instance, is there current debate or news article that has sparked your concern? A recent anniversary of an historical event that influences your position? Or a reading for a course? Connecting your observations to this broader occasion can also help connect your concerns to a wider context.

Speak to your audience

An argument addressed to people who already agree with your position will sound quite different from one crafted to persuade a skeptical audience to change their minds, so it is important to know who your primary audience is and to respect their initial positions. If your instructor has outlined a specific audience for your assignment, you already know who your audience is and have done a lot of the work on this suggestion already. On the other hand, if there isn’t a specific audience outlined for your assignment, perhaps think of your audience as a well-read individual who may have a general knowledge of the issues around your controversy but has not yet formed an opinion. What might that audience need to hear in order to come to a position of its own?

It’s also important to talk to your instructor early in your assignment if you have questions about purpose, occasion, or audience for your paper.

State your position

This suggestion may seem too obvious to mention, but it’s surprisingly easy to overlook: be sure to state your position clearly and directly early in your paper. It’s important also to explain the reason for your position if you haven’t provided that insight up to this point.

Combine strategies

The rhetorical strategies that you choose to use in your paper will depend on many factors, but in general a strong advocate will use a combination of persuasive appeals, credible sources, and rhetorical analysis in an effort to persuade an audience. Here are some other strategies you might consider:

Address possible objections directly
Imagine that someone who disagrees with your position is in your audience. What might be his or her strongest objections to your arguments? And how might you speak to those concerns based on the research that you have done? Sometimes an effective way to address concerns your audience might have about your argument is to discuss them directly in your paper. If you want to take the offensive, you might also analyze any logical fallacies that you observe in the arguments of your opposition (though this strategy also has the added side-effect of putting your audience on the defensive if it does not agree with your position.)

Think outside of the box
If you’re advocating a position on a controversy you know will be familiar to your audience, it can be useful to include an unexpected angle, example or source as part of your paper. An interview with someone connected to your controversy, the results of a survey or experiment that you’ve conducted, or a careful analysis of a familiar line of argument are just some of the ways you might use to highlight your contribution to the discussion.

Connect the past to the present
As you know from class and your own life, a current controversy may seem new or radically different at first, but it often has links to other events and controversies in the past. What might not always be clear is how this past affects the present situation. Connecting past events to your own position can help provide a valuable historical and cultural context for the arguments that you make, as well as provide background information for your audience that it might not otherwise know.